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Big Neighborhood Drama Over Big Blue Sculpture

Big Neighborhood Drama Over Big Blue Sculpture
Everyblock/Willjam

Sometimes “not in my back yard” really means “not in your front yard.”

A new piece of art has emerged in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, and some neighbors are not too happy about it. The artwork is a nearly 40-foot tall sculpture by artist John Henry that’s been planted in the front yard of a new home under construction.

The tall metal sculpture is an intersection of long blue beams, and some neighbors have likened it to a stick-figure or windmill. As CBS Chicago reports, vocal neighbors are upset about the aesthetics and sheer size of the sculpture. Evelyn McCullen told NBC Chicago she finds the sculpture “hideous, distasteful, enormous, monstrous.”

But the more pressing issue may actually be the sculpture’s shape. Part of the beam structure extends out of the front yard of the home and over the nearby sidewalk. This has some concerned about wintertime icicles, potential collapse, and zoning issues. Nearly 100 comments have been posted on a thread about the sculpture on the neighborhood-focused news and community website EveryBlock.

One commenter, Barker, sums up the outrage:

There is a life safety issue. NOTHING is allowed to hang over a public way. There are public way usage ordinances that are very strict. As the owner is in contraction, he is aware of this. There are i-beams hanging over Burling and Armitage. If there is any structural failure it would kill someone if they fell. With our children and the children form [sic] the school walking on that busy corner, the integrity needs to be assured.

There’s so far been no confirmation from the local alderman’s office as to whether the sculpture was properly permitted, but it seems the approval process happened at least a year ago. Another commenter on EveryBlock notes that the alderman’s office has requested a few local agencies to look into the matter.

It’s a little difficult to tell from the photos of the sculpture just how far the beams hang over the sidewalk, but this is the sort of neighborhood-level dispute that plays out in towns and cities all over the world: someone does something new, others don’t like it and want things to go back to how they were. This particular sculpture does inspire questions about how much a private project can and should impact the public space and collective neighborhood around it. What if, instead of this sculpture, the owner had built a 40-foot crucifix? Or the wind blowing up the dress of a 26-foot Marilyn Monroe? Zoning regulations allow a variety of structures to be built by-right or without input from neighbors. If people want to prevent projects like these from being built, they’ll either need to jump into the convoluted world of zoning reform or to accept that, sometimes, the world around them will not live up to their standards of beauty.

Image courtesy EveryBlock user Willjam

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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